Today we drove from our camp in the Chong Kemin Valley to the small town of Karakol. On the way we stopped in Cholpon-Ata, a resort town at the Issyk-Kul Lake. Measured by volume Issyk-Kul Lake is the tenth largest lake in the world. It’s 182 km long, 60 km wide and situated at an altitude of approx. 1,600m which makes it the second largest mountain lake in the world after Titicaca Lake. The Issyk-Kul Lake also has a higher concentration of salt than sea water which makes it the second largest salt lake in the world after the Caspian Sea. Before travelling here I have never even heard about the existence of this lake.
I far as I know “Issyk-Kul” means “warm lake” in the local language. The lake actually never freezes due to its extreme depth of 668m, thermal activity and mild salinity. During Soviet times the lake was a very popular vacation spot with lots of sanatoria around the town of Cholpon-Ata. This is still the case today but the number of tourists declined. They aren’t coming from the whole Soviet Union anymore but mainly from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
We stopped in Cholpon-Ata because we wanted to see the petroglyphs which are pictograms on rock surface. We visited an open-air museum were you can see approx. 2,000 of these petroglyphs. Some of them are very easy to spot and for others you need to use your imagination to actually see something. After walking around for a while we got somewhat bored and my fellow traveler Martina used the time to give Paul a massage on one of the big rocks.
We arrived in Karakol in the late afternoon. Here we also met Erkin our local Kyrgyz guide. Radik, who has been with us during the last days, was just a stand-in for Erkin since he was still busy with another group when we entered the country a couple of days ago.
On the first look Karakol looks very depressed. There are many things which still remind of Soviet times such as a Lenin statue or buildings in Soviet architecture. Erkin told us this is the case because first the town has no money to change these things and second people don’t really care if there are still statues of communist leaders in town since they never really hated them.
We stayed in the Hotel Amir which appeared to be the nicest hotel in town. It features nice modern rooms, internet access and excellent food which we enjoyed at a group dinner. Over dinner we also discussed a potential side trip our fellow traveler Andrew was suggesting. He researched the Eki Naryn gorge is a scenic spot to visit and he wants to organize a jeep to go there. Andrew and Chris will definitely go and see the gorge. Helen and Isabella consider going as well. I quickly looked up pictures of the gorge over the internet and decided not to join the side trip since we will see many similar gorges in Kyrgyzstan. I’m happy with the original itinerary after which we will spend two days camping at the shore of Issyk-Kul Lake and will stick to it.
Later in the evening some people went out to a Russian style nightclub named CCCP and really much enjoyed it.